Welcome back to another edition of Baseball Instinct’s top 10 prospects. We’ve been jumping from club to club and nearing the end of our journey with just four more teams for us to bring you. One of those teams is the Tampa Bay Rays, which will be brought to you by our own Brandon Kung and Thomas Chu. The guys will bring you 10 guys from a very deep organization, and provide with you a bonus look at a couple of players who will appear later this winter in our Tampa Bay Rays top 21 list.
2011 was an improbable year for the Tampa Bay Rays. With the Boston Red Sox up 9 games on them on Sept 2, they put together a most unlikely run, stunning the Red Sox as they took the American League Wild Card on the last day of the season. Unfortunately, the clock struck midnight for this Cinderella in the American League Divisional series against the Texas Rangers. Despite coming up short in their quest to get back to (and win)the world series, they got significant contributions from top prospects from a year ago such as RHP Jeremy Hellickson, LHP Jack McGee, OF Desmond Jennings, and our #1 Rays’ prospect for 2012; LHP Matt Moore.
1. Matt Moore, LHP 6/18/89, Ht: 6’2” Wt: 205 – TC: Drafted in 2007 by the Rays 8th round out of high school in New Mexico, Matt Moore added another phenomenal year to his already exceptional resume. He led the Minors in strikeouts the past two seasons, although he came up short in 2011 – he came in at 2nd with a 1.90 ERA and 210 Ks in 155 innings. Let’s see what else Moore accomplished this year. 200+ Ks? Check, if you’ve read. All-Star Futures Game? Tick. No-hitter? Done, even if it was in AAA. MLB debut? Yes. Started Game 1 of the ALDS? Stunningly yes, and he shut down the Rangers for seven innings. Now that’s impressive!
In 164.1 innings between AA and the MLB, Moore struck 225 batters for a 12.3 K/9 compared to a 2.7 BB/9. His FIP never topped 2.73 for any stops during the 2011 season. Moore’s swing-and-whiff arsenal includes a plus mid 90s fastball with late life that has added velocity over the past two seasons. The changeup has developed into a second plus pitch and he follows that with a hard late breaking curve that is already a strikeout pitch. Moore’s next stop is the Majors and given his track record, he will be abusing hitters with his frontline stuff. Check out Tom Belmont’s August 2011 article; Prospect Instinct|Matt Moore.
Our Instinct: I am admitted a Braves’ fan and love Julio Teheran, but even with my bias, Matt Moore has deservedly pitched as the #1 pitching prospect in all of baseball. I just reread what I wrote and all I see are strikeouts everywhere. In fact, Moore never had a K% below 31.2%, which was his debut year in 2007. Assuming, his Minor League career is over, Moore’s K% will have topped off at the peak – 38.7% at the AAA-level. Moore just signed a contract extension that could net him as much as $40m/8 years. We sure are looking forward to a young and impressive Tampa Bay rotation next year with Matt Moore and his ace potential in it.
2. Hak-Ju Lee, SS 11/4/90, Ht: 6’2” Wt: 175 – BK: Part of the prospect haul the Rays received when Matt Garza was traded to the Cubs in 2010, Hak-Ju Lee was signed by the Cubs for $725,000 out of Korea in 2008. Lee had his best season yet, overall hitting .292/.365/.416 with 37 extra base hits and 33 SB’s in A+/AA.
Lee’s offensive skill set isn’t anything flashy, but he does a lot of things right. He has the potential to hit at the top of the order. He’s a plus hitter who controls the strike zone well. He has plus-plus speed, but is still learning how to utilize it better on the base paths. Though he’s only hit 8 HRs in 1249 AB’s in the Minors, he should develop enough power to keep pitchers honest while he’s at the plate. Defensively, Lee is one of the top SS in the Minors. His outstanding range and plus arm make him comparable to more hyped defensive shortstops prospects like Jose Iglesias and Adeiny Hechavarria. Tom Belmont touched on Lee in his Prospect Instinct|Hak-Ju Lee article back in September.
Our Instinct: It’s probably a year too early to formally announce this, but it looks like the Rays finally have the shortstop they’ve always wanted! Lee has hit well at every stop, but struggled in his short stint in AA this year. He will probably need another year in the Minors, but if he hits well in AA he could see some time in the majors in 2012.
3. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP 12/1/92, Ht: 6’3” Wt: 195 – TC: Selected by the Rays with their #24 selection, Taylor Guerrieri significantly raised his draft profile by lighting up the radar gun months within the 2011 MLB First Year Player draft. Scouts feel he has a projectable frame, the right physicality and clean mechanics to develop into a top pitching prospect, especially given the Rays’ developmental track record. Guerrieri impressed scouts with his mid-90’s fastball that touched 98mph on occasion and a plus power curveball. In addition, he throws a cutter and an occasional changeup, which he continually strives to improve. Guerrieri was signed too late to make his professional debut, but he will be taking his 4-pitch arsenal wherever the Rays start him in 2012.
Our Instinct: We had Taylor Guerrieri ranked #8 in our 2011 MLB Draft preview and our views haven’t changed on him. We still believe that Guerrieri was one of the steals of the 2011 draft and we certainly have high expectations for him. He just turned 19 and with more consistency, Guerrieri might be able to add more zip on his fastball, pushing it into the upper 90’s. Along with further development of his 88-90mph cutter and/or changeup will help raise Guerrieri’s profile even higher next year!
4. Alex Torres, LHP 12/8/87, Ht: 5’10” Wt: 175 – TC: Alex Torres continues to pitch under the radar within the Rays system, shielded by high-profile lefties like staff ace David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and 2011’s top pitching prospect, Matt Moore. Tampa acquired Torres from the Angels in 2009 for Scott Kazmir, a lefty strikeout artist who could not stay healthy and lost his control. Torres appears to be the most valuable return in that trade, but like Kazmir, his command and control need work. He made all his starts (27) in AAA-Durham in 2011 and pitched in line with his career stats: 3.08 ERA, 9.6 K/9 rate and a disappointing 5.1 BB/9 rate. He is equipped with a low 90’s fastball w/ good movement, an effective changeup, a curve and a work-in-progress slider that could be a plus pitch in time. Torres’ command and control issues may stem from his delivery, but if he can hone his craft, he can emerge as a #3/4 starter for the Rays (maybe a #2/3 for other teams).
Our Instinct: I attended the game where Alex Torres pitched in relief against the Yankees in his MLB debut – seriously, a tough, tough match-up. I’m sure part of him had nerves, but his control was terrible that night and it was difficult to watch. Tampa pitches in the AL (B)East, so Torres cannot avoid the same stacked lineups unless he’s traded. However, in Torres’ final appearance in 2011, he was fairly efficient, kept the walks under check and blanked the Blue Jays for five innings. He could be a top pitching prospect for some teams given his upside, but at the moment, he is stuck behind the Ray’s pitching depth. I like him a lot, but barring a trade, it seems that Torres might be destined for the bullpen.
5. Mikie Mahtook, OF 11/30/89, Ht: 6’1” Wt: 200 – BK: A talented athlete, Mikie Mahtook could have followed in the footsteps of his late father and uncle and played football at LSU. Instead, he opted to focus on baseball and lead the LSU Tigers in winning the College World Series in 2009.
Our Instinct: Mahtook does a bit of everything and does it well, with average or better tools across the board. He has good bat speed and has a chance to be an above average hitter with average power. His best tool is his plus speed, while his weakest is his arm which is fringe average but accurate. If you want to nitpick, then you could say his swing is a little unorthodox in that it’s somewhat compact or that he doesn’t have any tools that rate more than a plus, but he has a strong makeup and his scrappy gritty play helps him play beyond his tools.
6. Drew Vettleson, OF 7/19/91, Ht: 6’1” Wt: 185 – TC: As the third draft pick in Tampa’s 2010 First Year Player Draft, Drew Vettleson was a high school player who could hit and pitch. Vettleson was a rarity: he “switch pitched” – one who threw 93mph from the right and 88mph as a southpaw. It was obvious that he could throw, but the Rays drafted him for his bat. He was considered to be one of the purest prep hitters in the 2010 draft and he did not disappoint in 2011. Vettleson hit .282/.357/.462 and a .179 ISO and displayed solid patience and pitch recognition. As a young prospect, he still needs to cut down his strike outs, especially for a bat that hasn’t shown much power yet. Power still might come though. A plus hitter with potential for more, Vettleson could stand to become an impact player in the Ray’s OF soon.
Our Instinct: While I don’t question his defensive capabilities in the OF, particularly his arm strength, whether he becomes an impact bat (or a starting OF, rather than a 4th OF?) or not depends on how much power he will develop in addition to his ability to hit and take a pitch. He hit well in the Appalachian League and has gap power for now, so signs are positive if he can add on some bulk. It may slow him down, but we’ve seen that he has great instincts both on the bases and in the field.
7. Alex Colome, RHP 12/31/88, Ht: 6’2” Wt: 184 – BK: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, Alex Colome is the nephew of former Rays reliver Jesus Colome and like his uncle, he has the stuff to prove it. On stuff alone, Colome’s rivals anyone in the Rays’ organization not named Matt Moore. He has a mid 90s fastball that features natural sink and arm side run. A tight 11-5 curveball rates as average now, but could be a plus pitch. He also throws a changeup, but it needs a lot of work.
Our Instinct: Colome’s struggles in AA last year is evident in his 5.4k/9ip, 4.1bb/9ip line. I would like to see him make strides in his command in 2012. However, he’s only 22 and the Rays have a good reputation for developing starting pitchers. If everything goes right, Colome could be a good #3 starting pitcher. The biggest detriment to his success is his spotty command, which might eventually relegate him to the bullpen.
8. Brandon Guyer, OF 1/28/86, Ht: 6’1” Wt: 210 – BK: Although drafted back in 2007, Brandon Guyer was bothered by a shoulder injury during his first two years in the Minors. It was not until 2010 that he became a legitimate prospect after a strong performance in AA-Tennessee (.344/.398/.588, .244 ISO).
Our Instinct: As with Mahtook, Guyer has a broad range of skills, but doesn’t have any tool other than his speed that is a plus or better. He has good contact skills and has a chance to have an above average hit tool and power, but his aggressiveness at the plate limits the number of walks he draws. It’s unlikely that Brandon Guyer will be an All-Star, but he has the makings of an average or slightly above average outfielder. It will be nice if he can somehow draw more walks, but even if not, he should at least be a 4th outfielder.
9. Chris Archer, RHP 9/26/88, Ht: 6’3” Wt: 185 – BK: The former crown jewel of the Cub’s farm system and the key prospect obtained by the Rays in the Matt Garza trade, Chris Archer’s took a step back in the 2011 season following an impressive 2010 campaign. Armed with a plus fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 97mph, as well as a plus-plus slider with good tilt and depth, Archer has the stuff to be a frontline starter. He also has a below-average changeup that is usable, but didn’t have a chance to throw it often this year because he often fell behind in the count. Check out George Utter’s Prospect Instinct|Chris Archer article.
Our Instinct: For next year at least, it’s a blessing for Archer that the Rays have a lot of MLB pitching talent, as he will need another year in the Minors. I would like to see him have more confidence in his fastball and attack the strike zone more aggressively. If he can make these improvements, then he has a chance to be a big league starter – at the very least, a mid-rotation starter with a chance to be more. If not, then his fastball/slider combo should at least get him an audition in the bullpen.
10. Ryan Brett, 2B 10/9/91, Ht: 5’9” Wt: 180 – BK: Drafted in the 3rd round, 98th overall by the Rays in 2010, Ryan Brett started off professional career on the right foot hitting .300/.370/.471. Brett is a pure hitter who consistently hits the ball with authority. He has good plate discipline as evidenced by his 26BB:24K and he has some pop in his bat, but it’s more of the line drive variety. He also makes the most of his above average speed as evidenced by his success rate – he stole 21/24 bases in 2011. His defense is not highly regarded, but he’s athletic and has a scrappy style of play, so there’s a decent chance he can stick at 2b.
Our Instinct: Ryan Brett is a prospect, but don’t throw out the Dustin Pedroia comps because of his height. He’s several years off from reaching the majors, and although he does have promise, he currently projects to be an average second basemen. Whether he becomes more, depends on if he can maintain and improve his numbers during the 2012 season.
Baseball Instinct’s top 21 “Free-view”
There’s literally several players that could have made it into our Rays’ top 10 list, and would have easily made it onto other teams as well. Here’s a preview of a couple of those players who you will see in our top 21 later this winter.
11. Enny Romero, LHP 1/24/91, Ht: 6’3” Wt: 165 – TC: Tampa seems to have an arms race. Like most arms in Tampa’s Minor league system, Enny Romero has the potential to be a stud. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008 and has pitched extremely well, but struggled in 2011. The Rays essentially skipped Romero past Lo A and bumped him straight to Hi A. He still struck out hitters. In fact, Romero elevated his K% to 27.8% in 2011 despite skipping a level. In addition to the K’s, his mid 90’s fastball, which has late life and heavy sink, also induced many groundballs (GB: 54%). He has a curve, but… In the coming season, he’ll have to continue working on his off speed stuff, command, and control as both took a step back this season with a 13.5% BB ratio.
Our Instinct: I love Enny Romero and he could have made it into many organization’s top 10 list. He’s turning 21 soon and he’s young enough for a second go at Hi A – Bowling Green with a potential midseason promotion to AA. As a lefty with a mid 90’s fastball and a curveball that projects as a plus pitch and a developing changeup, he has the makings to be a frontline starter. He has a projectable body and he might be able to add a few mph on his fastball as he adds some weight to his frame. Romero has some beautiful pitches and with some hard work in 2012, he can reach closer to the sky and fulfill his potential.
12. Oscar Hernandez, C 7/9/93, Ht: 6’0” Wt: 196 – TC: We first mentioned Hernandez in George Utter’s Touch’em All| VSL article “The 2011 Venezuelan Summer League’s triple crown winner, Oscar Hernandez had an unbelievable year posting PS3 type numbers”. He hit .402/.503/.732 with a .331 ISO and was second amongst Tampa’s Minor league affiliates with 21 HRs. Yes, the VSL may be a hitter’s league, BUT winning a triple crown is no small or easy feat. Moreover, Hernandez’s 2011 stats suggest he should have a good batting eye (or at least an excellent improvement) as he cut down his K% from 16.0% to 15.0% and boosted his BB% from 9.2 to 12.6%. In addition to his offensive performance, Hernandez has also shown a very good arm throwing out 42% of all would-be base stealers in 2011. In 2010, he was even better – gunning down 52%! His defense behind the plate however was not as great, but he is only 18. Regardless of his defensive capabilities, Hernandez’s year was monstrous and historic and he’s definitely an atomic bomb on our radar!
Our Instinct: Oscar Hernandez is simply amazing! Obviously at his age and position, development defensively is going to be a long process and while the contact ability is there it’s the overall growth he made in one year raising his IsoP from .175, which is already excellent for that age, to .330. Unsustainable, but that’s what gets him some spotlight. It’s a long road, but he’s a catcher to watch in 2012. Time to come stateside. He should open 2012 in the Gulf Coast League with a possible chance of making it to the Appalachian League quickly. It would be unfair to expect another triple crown, but his performance next year will give us a better idea of his offensive tools and how legit of a product he can really be.
Check back soon as we profile more Top 10 Lists for each MLB team and also get our baseball geek on and take a look at some of the later draft picks from the 2011 draft that we think could be big names on the prospect radars in the near future. While you’re here, take a look at a recent article in this series: Cincinnati Reds Top 10 List and be a step ahead of the game. Also, check out a friend of ours for all of your fantasy sports needs. Fantasy Rundown is updated religiously and is truly an awesome resource. Thanks for checking Baseball Instinct. We’re working hard to bring you the best of the minor leagues and make the site the best experience it can be. So don’t hesitate to tell us what you would like to read about. Email us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.